Review: True Detective Season 2, Episode 1- The Western Book of the Dead

A well-crafted opening episode introduces an ensemble cast of fallen misfits, never straying far from Pizzolatto's blackened aesthetic.

A new season in an anthology brings a fresh perspective.

Gone is the languid, character-driven southern gothic of season one. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson – so instrumental in the show’s critical success – have taken up executive producer roles. Nick Pizzolatto, still at the helm, is a rising talent. His debut season perfectly blended police procedural with Thomas Ligotti’s brand of anti-natalism – McConaughey’s memorable anti-hero, Rust Cohle, acting as its core philosophical mouthpiece.

In season two’s first episode, Pizzolatto quickly establishes a strong sense of place. From sweeping overhead shots of industrial estates to the hermetically sealed smoke and neon of an underground bar, the urban sprawl of California is sentient – a heaving mass of possibility where untapped mysteries are set to be subverted, teased out, and explored.

A persuasive case can be made that the considered pace, carefully constructed mise-en-scène, and expressionistic framing of actors are indebted to David Lynch’s horror noir, Mulholland Drive. The haunting ditty at the episode’s close especially evokes Lynch’s eerie aesthetic.

Thematically, on first impressions, the narrative will criss-cross its focus on an ensemble cast of morally grey characters, in thrall to the impersonal effect of a city that pushes and pulls its denizens through the interstices of legality and moral acceptability.

The major cause for concern – given the large cast – is whether eight episodes will allow enough time for all the conjoining stories to fully develop. Critics and fans alike have also voiced concerns about whether the level of acting will meet expectations. Setting the bar so high in the opening season has produced its own predictable caveats. So far, Colin Farrell has positively stood out with easily his most earnest attempt at acting.

The tone of the series will take another episode or two to settle. One hour of television provides us only enough time to get a rough taste of the major characters. It’s now up to Pizzolatto to work his black magic. Given the critical success of his first novel, Galveston, he’s yet to misfire.

So, for now, let us hold judgment. After all, season two clearly has the potential to unfold its wings and grow, evinced in a solid, open-ended first episode.

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